With project management in rural India, teachers see "once-insurmountable" problems can be overcome


15 February 2018

Published inPM for Social Good

Group of people gathering in rural India

PMI Pune Chapter volunteers approached a partnership with the rural Indian school as a cultural exchange, watching student performances and hearing students’ ideas before introducing PM concepts.

The greatest natural resource of India is its motivated and ingenuous people – rich in devoted teachers determined to educate, and eager students anxious to learn. But too often, that dedication is curtailed by one challenge. 

“There are severe resource restraints,” explains PMIEF Liaison Makarand Hardas. “In some schools there is no power at times, and no internet access for teachers. Students show up barefoot; they have no raincoats for bad weather. They carry books in plastic bags because they have no proper schoolbags. Schools are challenged in areas of communication, staff development and project-based learning. And when it comes to solutions, one thing is always true: If it is not practical, it is not a solution.”

Makarand and fellow PMI volunteers devise innovative PM-based programs to find workable solutions fine-tuned to various schools. “We don’t just push our own agenda,” Makarand assures. Instead, volunteers meet with principals and teachers to discuss challenges they face, immediate needs, and what will work. Then they customize sessions based on that input. “As we work with educators, they develop a grasp of how to manage tools, techniques, predictability, and certainty. They see problems that once seemed insurmountable can be overcome,” says Makarand.

Case in point: Pujya Bapuji Salunkhe Vidyalay, Asawali school approached Makarand asking for project management expertise, in part to improve school-wide spoken English language skills. 

“When visitors present programs or administer exams in English, students become very shy and do not open up or ask questions,” says Makarand. This hesitation to speak English can become problematic. In India, employers routinely ask job-seekers which languages they speak; English is mandatory, and essential for success on a global level.

Chapter volunteers began the outreach by transforming PM sessions, usually conducted in English, into the local Marathi dialect. Changing the language was not the only adjustment the volunteers made. They also created an analogy between the sport of cricket and project management. “We showed how cricket stars began their personal journeys – ‘projects’ – by identifying desire to be cricket players, planning what to do to become athletes, and working hard to achieve their goals,” says Makarand. “We connected students to PM by breaking down the life of a cricketer into planning, goals, and deliverables.”

Additionally, Makarand told students the entirety of life is a project, with a definite start and end, and deliverables along the way. But what is unique about life, he explains, is “…it is not started by us, and not finished by us. What we can control is planning, execution and monitoring. Through the principles of PM we can excel in whatever limited ‘in between’ period we are given. Students become very motivated by that message.”

At subsequent sessions, students were introduced to communication management by volunteers sharing stories in the local dialect, and then asking them to translate the tales into English. “Now when we visit, a student will say, ‘Sir, I have written a page for you in English.’ In the last few months we have seen the quality and confidence of spoken English rising week after week,” says a gratified Makarand. “This has improved for teachers as well.”

Volunteers each filled unique roles as the ongoing effort reached full stride. While Prajakta Dhamal-Bhoite taught English classes with an emphasis on verbal skills, two other chapter volunteers provided logistical support. PMI India staff member Leena Gupte also supported the chapter in developing the partnership.

Students have since been tapped to participate in a “Dream School” drawing contest to illustrate and identify items – from additional desks and better lighting to more books, and computer stations – that would turn their classroom into a “dream” learning environment. 

“Based on the drawings, we will start plans to fulfill outstanding needs,” says Makarand, adding it is a message he will carry back to fellow PMs. “In our careers we typically go after goals – a bonus, a corner office – but the perks we chase are nothing compared to being able to help people struggling in life. Social good outreach campaigns encounter people who do not have good shelter, hot water, cell phones, internet, or even shoes, and so we experience a complete change in perspective. When I share this experience with other project managers, I regularly have 10 or 15 members walk up to me and say, ‘Tell us what we can do.’” Together they chip away at the material and educational needs of the less fortunate.

Working with underprivileged populations has been “a privilege” for Makarand, an information technology professional. “PM often impacts highly educated professional people. But I believe we need basic skill development for people who have minimum competency. Then it can grow and become a sustainable skill for life. This is what we are doing in schools.”

A volunteer for six years, Makarand recalls the first four years were about “…evangelizing PM principles to professionals who were upcoming, first-time or accidental managers.” But he came to believe there are enough PMs in urban areas to guide those individuals. Few people are doing this work in rural India, so he has redirected his efforts. “I get great satisfaction knowing we have touched someone’s life. Former students call and say, ‘Sir, I am doing well now, because of you.’ That is the pay-back. It is worth more than a million dollars.”

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